Monsters in the Garage
Family gatherings are always an occasion for reminiscing—and our children, Peter and Brenda, have memories that have morphed into legends.
To start with, there was a uniqueness to our "family." It consisted of our nuclear family plus twelve men who needed support so that they could one day live more independently. After breakfast each weekday, a van would take the men to their places of work, and in the afternoon, around the time the children came home from school when they were old enough to attend; the men would also come home.
In addition to an already full house, one of the children's uncles from England lived with us for two years, and an aunt came each evening to help the men learn the skills they'd need to live on their own and take whoever wanted to go out, shopping, all in turn. Meanwhile, I was always busy shopping for groceries, cleaning, and cooking.
Each year over the college semester, from January through March, students taking the Developmental Support Worker course at Humber College would come in pairs on their field placements, and the children would get to know them, too.
It's not hard to see that their formative years were a-typical, but they never speak of them in terms other than fondness and pride. Instead, they seem to like telling people they grew up in a group home.
We lived in a rented large, rambling farmhouse on two acres of land overlooking a valley through which a stream meandered. The field was filled with wildflowers each summer, and a mist hung over the valley each morning.
Although our lives were rich in relationships, if we lacked anywhere, it was in owning anything new. When we first took up our post at the farmhouse, it was the mid 70's. We had only been married five years and had two children aged two and four. We brought our humble belongings, and the previous house parents left behind things they didn't want, including a big dog with a tough-sounding name to match his appearance—I believe it was Bullet. It wasn't long before there was a thunderstorm, and the aptly named Bullet jumped right through the screen in the front door. We knew it wouldn't work out and returned him to his original owners.
The previous house parents left furniture in the men's part of the house and an ancient fridge in the garage. I guess it was vintage 1950s because it was smaller than modern fridges and had rounded corners, and it wasn't Avocado Green or Harvest Gold like the fridges of the 1970s. It must have been white when new, but it had grown rusty over the decades, and on the front, it had a long, pointy handle that opened the fridge when lifted.
There was a breezeway between the house and the garage, which we called "the verandah," although it wasn't a verandah. I hung out of one of its windows to hang the laundry on a line with a pulley.
The garage was haunted by a gigantic orb spider, which terrified Brenda. I had read that if you named your fears, you would overcome them. So I tried calling it Harriet, hoping Brenda would consider it a pet, but it didn't work.
Children of busy mothers make up their own amusement, and, much too late to do anything about it, we've learned of dangerous escapades in the old barn on the property next door. I am just grateful that they survived to tell us.
Occasionally, the children would head for the garage and the ancient refrigerator. They approached the fridge with wooden sticks—not for fear of Harriet, but because they had learned by experience that lifting the metal handle could result in an unpleasant electric shock. Not always—but they didn't like the odds.
Peter and Brenda learned a lot about relationships and people in their childhood. They also knew that if fear is big and hairy enough, it will still terrify you, even if you name it Harriet. And they handily learned that wood does not conduct electricity.